Saturday, November 20, 2010

At Louvain, Lights Out: Nation's First Foreign Sem to Close

Two days after the US bishops were briefed in executive session on an in-house push to consolidate the nation's seminaries -- a project the Holy See has long called for, seeing the current number of institutes as excessive, their resources "spread too thinly" -- the oldest American formation house overseas has announced that it'll close its doors come June.

Founded in 1857 and dedicated to the national patroness, the Immaculate Conception, the American College Louvain has struggled over recent years with low numbers of students and, in general, the ever-growing prominence of its younger sibling, Rome's Pontifical North American College -- which, by contrast, has reported record classes in recent years.

A letter with news of the college's end was circulated to its constituencies earlier today and obtained by Whispers from two sources.

Here below is the full text of the message, signed by the ACL board chair, Bishop David Ricken of Green Bay, and the rector, Msgr Ross Shecterle:
It is with sadness in our hearts that we must communicate with you the following information regarding the American College in Louvain.

After 154 years of forming men for the priesthood of Jesus Christ for service in the Church of the United States and serving as a residence for graduate and sabbatical priests, religious, and lay people, the American College of the Immaculate Conception in Leuven, Belgium will close at the end of this formation year in June of 2011. The seminary has served the Church in the U.S. and other parts of the world faithfully, steadfastly, and zealously throughout its existence.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops who is responsible for the American College of Louvain recommended closure of the seminary based upon a current Conference Study concerning the number of seminaries in the United States; the American College of Louvain is one of two seminaries overseas governed by the Conference, the other being the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

The criteria cited by the Apostolic Commission responsible for the Study, directed by the Bishops’ Committee on Clergy, Consecrated Life, and Vocations were: small enrollment numbers; the significant challenges in peer formation in a small seminary environment; the shortage of priest faculty; and a small number of sending dioceses of the 178 Latin Rite dioceses in the United States. Stewardship of priestly and financial resources considered from a more universal Church perspective was also cited.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states that the closure of the seminary at this time is not in any way a response to the current crisis in the Belgian Catholic Church nor the current dialogues continuing at the Catholic University of Louvain regarding Catholic Identity. The Commission to study the number of seminaries has been an ongoing conversation within the Conference of Bishops for a number of years. It notes that the American College of Louvain holds a particularly close relationship with both the theology and philosophy faculties at the University. The Conference extends a word of deep thanks and regard to the Archbishop and the Archdiocese of Mechelen-Brussels, the theology and philosophy faculties, as well as the people of Belgium for their support and collaboration with the Roman Catholic Church of the United States over these many years.

We want to thank all of you, alumni, friends and benefactors, for your ongoing support for the American College for these many years. Without your help, there would be far fewer priests and qualified lay people to serve in ministry and education in our country. Emphasis in the next six months will be placed on the continuing formation of our seminarians until the end of this formation year 2010 – 2011 and will focus on cooperating with the “sending” dioceses for placement for the seminarians in the next step of their formation process.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will be working closely with us for the proper disposition of the property and patrimony of the American College.

This letter is coming to you at the normal time of our appeal. One of our major goals during this transition period is to make sure that we maintain the high quality of formation for our seminary students. We still need your financial assistance for this year (the line item for this annual appeal is already budgeted using last year’s numbers). In order to meet this goal, we need your help to ensure that the seminarians are properly formed throughout this year and then prepared for their next step of formation in another seminary. So please help us to meet this goal by making a similar contribution as last year or more if you can.

May God continue to bless and reward you for your generosity and your faithfulness and for your love for Christ, for the Church and the American College of Louvain.

Our Lady Seat of Wisdom. Pray for us.

St. Joseph. Pray for us.
As one op close to the Louvain house said in reacting to the news, the closing "is a great loss and a great sadness."